November 13, 2013

President Obama has prevaricated too much. That is what Americans are telling pollsters. A new Quinnipiac poll reports, “For the first time today, American voters say 52 – 44 percent that Obama is not honest and trustworthy. His previous lowest marks on honesty were May 30, when 49 percent of voters said he was honest and 47 percent said he wasn’t.” Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, explained that “any elected official with an 8-point trust deficit is in serious trouble.” Couple that with a 54 to 39 percent disapproval rating and greater disapproval than approval in every major policy area (foreign policy, immigration, health care, federal budget and the economy) and you have a presidency in free fall.

President Obama (Jason Reed/Reuters)
President Obama (Jason Reed/Reuters)

It is the trustworthiness factor, however, that is most problematic and almost certain to get worse. The poll was taken before it became evident, as critics expected when he made the promise, that HealthCare.gov isn’t going to be fixed by Nov. 30. The Post reports, “Software problems with the federal online health insurance marketplace, especially in handling high volumes, are proving so stubborn that the system is unlikely to work fully by the end of the month as the White House has promised, according to an official with knowledge of the project.” In any contentious situation, the president’s words, voters are figuring out, are unlikely to be complete or accurate. (The parlor game is now to figure out how he will try to rewrite his own comments once they become demonstrably false.)

There is no wonder, then, that prominent Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) now want to let people keep their individually purchased insurance, which would in effect gut Obamacare. Whether intentionally or not, they are telling the president that his signature accomplishment is unsustainable and they’re not willing to stick by him. From a political point of view, they’d be foolish to do otherwise. (From a policy standpoint, allowing people to keep their insurance is the death knell of the exchanges that require large numbers of healthy young people to subsidize the rest.)

Now that most Americans doubt his honesty and competency on key issues, the burden of proof shifts to the president in debates about everything from Obamacare changes to Iran to the budget. Trust Obama on an interim deal with Iran, which has infuriated allies including Israel? Forget it. Trust him that there is no need to delay Obamacare? No way. Republicans shouldn’t be shy about saying the obvious: This is a man whose word means very little.

Critics of the president, both Democrat and Republican, will be emboldened to challenge his assertions on most everything. That should not however lead Republicans only to point fingers and excoriate the president, as tempting as that might be. What they can now do is begin to package measures the president desperately needs to get back into the political game with measures they want. So if the president wants to let people keep their insurance or try some other salve to make up for his false representation, Republicans should join him — so long as the entire Obamacare mandate is delayed. The president needs relief from the sequestration caps on domestic programs? Fine, but defense (disproportionately cut before) now should get significant relief and there should be a down payment on entitlement reform. The shutdown crew should pipe down and watch. They might learn that leverage comes not from threatening to do things that hurt you and everyone else, but in extracting things from the other side desperate for relief.

Republicans, as I have argued many times, need a short list of health-care reform items to offer as an alternative to Obamacare. Given the collapse of a humungous endeavor, small and incremental changes (e.g. allowing interstate insurance sales) would be a welcome relief. And when it comes to Iran, Congress should emphatically stand on the side of six United Nations resolutions, previously stated U.S. policy and the demands of our allies to decry any attempt to lift sanctions without a halt to enrichment and fulfillment of existing U.N. resolutions. In re-emphasizing that position and in passing new sanctions, it will in fact be strengthening the president’s hand in dealing with Iran, whether he knows it or not.

Finally, liberal pundits and media spinners (the ones who have insisted Obama would hit Iran militarily if needed, who believed his red line on Syria, who said he really wasn’t lying on Obamacare, who believed the sequestration hooey) would be well advised to stop defending the indefensible — their credibility is in danger of going down the tube with Obama’s.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.